Ana Asenjo Garcia
“I’m a theorist working in quantum optics and nanophotonics, and I collaborate with a group of experimentalists to propose new experiments and build models to understand their measurements. Basically, I’m working on making atoms talk to each other by placing them near nanophotonic structure —super tiny waveguides or photonic crystals—that enhance the interaction between them.”
Faculty, Columbia University
IQIM Postdoctoral Scholar Alumna
- PhD, 2014
- Complutense University, Madrid
What is your current research?
I’m a theorist working in quantum optics and nanophotonics, and I collaborate with a group of experimentalists to propose new experiments and build models to understand their measurements. Basically, I’m working on making atoms talk to each other by placing them near nanophotonic structure —super tiny waveguides or photonic crystals—that enhance the interaction between them. Compared to how these atoms would behave in vacuum, they interact in a much stronger manner, so you can get really exotic effects. This research has many potential applications, such as in quantum nonlinear optics, and it could have a huge impact on how we transfer and store information, but it’s also just really fun. We put our heads together and draw on many different fields, because you have to deeply understand what’s going on to be able to grasp what the experiments are telling us.
What drew you to this work?
One of the things that I like about my current research is how many different fields it involves. You have to really understand the optics, what the electromagnetic fields are doing, and you have to understand the atomic physics as well. You can also bring in concepts from condensed matter theory and quantum information science. It’s like a communion of many different things, and I feel like I’m learning a lot along the way.
I’ve always been drawn to science because it answers questions in a very powerful way. My first instinct was to go into biology, but then I discovered the predictive power of physics and the beauty that math can add to the description of nature, and so that’s where my studies took me. There’s a very creative aspect to physics, and I really value that. I also enjoy the process of discovery and learning. When you first start a project, you don’t necessarily know what’s going on, and then after some months of work you realize that you do sort of understand it, and you’re able to connect this problem with many other problems that you’ve worked on, and this gives you a global perspective. This moment of enlightenment is my favorite part. I’m sure everyone will say that it’s the applications that are important, because they’ll save the world someday, but I just do it because I like it.
What do you do when you’re not doing physics?
Having just moved to Los Angeles, I am especially excited to check out the art scene, and visit the museums around here. I would like to learn how to surf, since it’s something that I’ve always wanted to try and it seems California would be a good place to get started. I really enjoy rollerblading. For a while, I commuted to campus that way, but the sidewalks can be a little treacherous, so now I mostly use my bike. I also like to read, and I spend time at home with my cats and my husband. I have been a volunteer at animal shelters in the past, and that’s something I may pursue here as well.